The Answer Does Not Always Come in Pill Form - Drugs Can't Fix Your Life
This post was prompted by some of the responses to my previous post on suicide.
One of the things I have noticed is a tendency for all of us (myself included) to over medicalise complex issues - by which I mean the idea that almost every problem has a drug based solution.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to human psychology and psychiatry.
We live in a consumer culture which says that we ought to be able to buy an immediate fix to any problem using technology.
Drugs are one of the most ancient forms of technology we have.
People are busy and want quick fixes to difficult problems.
In certain cases that may work.
For example if you have a piece of technology, (say a car) that needs fixing then you can usually get it fixed pretty fast if you pay enough money.
If all else fails you can buy another one.
You can't do that with the human mind (at least not yet) but in a similar way people expect that if one drug does not work for them then they need to just try another one.
"The last one didn't work because it was not new or advanced enough - but this next one surely will."
The real issue is not the drug companies
Many people like to blame the drug companies for these kinds of issues.
Obviously it is in their best interests to push their products as solutions to as many problems as they can find.
They are businesses and not charities. They have also engaged in questionable and downright unethical practices.
However, placing the blame entirely at their door is an oversimplification in my opinion.
As human beings we have a tendency to blame others for problems because it allows us to feel better about ourselves.
The truth is that drug companies are only fulfilling a need that already exists in modern society.
They are a mirror which reflects societal need - without that they would not be so successful.
Psychological problems are complex
Most psychological problems are complex and multifactorial- they rarely occur overnight.
A large proportion of what causes them are related to our personality, lifestyle and social factors.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that drugs don't have a place.
In severe mental illness they are an invaluable tool to help arrest the immediate acute situation and save lives.
They can also help to counter genetic predispositions which give people a higher than average susceptibility to mental health problems.
What they cannot and won't do is fix the circumstances in your life, personality and thinking that lead you to the end point of developing mental illness.
It is simply unrealistic to expect that.
"Human" problems often need "human" solutions
These are "human" (person based) problems and need "human" (person based) solutions - things like counselling, psychotherapy, education and support services.
This bring us to one of the central issues of why pushing drugs is so attractive - Cost.
Even the most expensive drug will be a lot cheaper than training a new psychotherapist or clinical psychologist.
It is not just a matter of monetary cost though.
Drugs can be cheaper in terms of time and infrastructure too.
They require less work and effort on behalf of both society/institutions and the individual.
As an illustration of this, if we suddenly decided we wanted to train the actual number of psychotherapists and other professionals we needed to serve mental health services we would not have the required educational structures to actually do it.
Additionally engaging with something like cognitive behavioural therapy can take months (sometimes years) of hard and uncomfortable effort.
Patients often drop out and stop attending because it is too hard.
I lost count of the number of patients who asked for psychotherapy but when they actually were lucky enough to get their appointments (normally there is a waiting list) they dropped out or gave up after a couple of sessions.
So both from a societal and individual perspective we all engage in believing that the next pill will do what all the previous ones have not.
- It is almost like a shared delusion which shields people from confronting the more difficult problems.
As I have said before - It is so much easier to take a pill.
Then when it doesn't work we ask our doctor for a new one. Rinse and repeat.
Sadly life is not that simple.
In summary my main point is that it is easy for us to look for quick fixes to complex problems - particularly when it comes to our own minds.
This also makes it easier for institutions and organisations to neglect investing in more expensive long term solutions.
It is easy to blame the drug companies/"big pharma" for this situation but I believe it is actually a reflection of a deep seated and somewhat immature view of the psychosocial problems that exist in modern society.
It is in our nature to try to take short cuts and expend the least energy necessary to solve any problem.
It makes sense for some problems but in this case I believe it goes against our best interests. What do you think?
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